Author Archives: clairegebben

Video

Flashback: the February 15 Book Launch

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESMy nephew Nicholas Gebben has made a wonderful Book Launch Highlights video from my novel release party back in February. (Click on the book launch highlights link to view it in Youtube.) Thanks Nick!

In addition, below are more photos of wonderful friends and family on that day. I smile just to see you all smiling.

Thanks to every one for make the launch of The Last of the Blacksmiths such a memorable day!!!
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Cleveland and the automobile

jubilee 1902I have a copy of the compendious Jubilee Edition of the Cleveland Wächter und Anzeiger 1902 — a 50th anniversary edition of items published in the Cleveland German newspaper of that name. Since the Jubilee edition was written in German, it languished in relative obscurity for almost 100 years, until an English translation appeared in the year 2000, a publication of Cleveland’s Western Reserve Historical Society. I am forever indebted to WRHS for this translation. I turned to it countless times during my research for The Last of the Blacksmiths.

Chock full of information about German immigrants to Cleveland (until the year 1902), the compilation of German newspaper items includes a brief write-up on the then-fledgling automobile industry.

The first American vehicle was manufactured in Cleveland” the heading on p. 98 proclaims. (In reality, this turns out to be incorrect. According to an interpretive display at the Western Reserve Historical Society Crawford Auto Aviation Collection, the Duryea, “built by brothers Charles F. and J. Frank. Duryea, is often credited as being the first American automobile making its public appearance in 1893 in Springfield, Massachusetts.”)

car winton touring circa 1904 smAnyhow, the Jubilee goes on, “Alexander Winton, the pioneer of the industry in America, was the first manufacturer of this sort of machine.” A Scottish immigrant who originally made bicycles, Winton sold 100 of these one-cylinder gas-powered vehicles in 1898.

[Pictured left: a Winton Buggy circa 1899. This and all photos below were taken during my visit to the Crawford Auto Aviation Collection at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio.]

car white motor 1902 sm“The steam motor is manufactured by the White Sewing Machine Company, which has given up the manufacture of bicycles and produced an automobile powered by a combination of gasoline and steam. The machine has won all competitions it has entered.” –Jubilee, p.98

[Pictured left: a 1902 White Motor Car]

The White Sewing Machine Company of Cleveland was a successful business founded by Thomas White. However, White’s sons had their eyes on the young automobile industry. They convinced their father to allow them to begin producing autos. … Relying on the innovative “semi-flash boiler” developed by Rollin White, the company became successful with steam-powered vehicles. White steamers were the best on the market in the days when it was still not standard for autos to be powered by internal combustion engines. White steamers raced and set speed records. When Theodore Roosevelt took the wheel of a White steamer, he became the first U.S. president to drive an automobile. — Interpretive display at Western Reserve Historical Society Crawford Auto Aviation Collection, Cleveland Ohio

car baker electric 1904 sm“The electric automobile manufactured by the Baker Motor Vehicle Company, enjoys a positive reputation. This sort of vehicle is not suited for long trips, but rather for use in the city or in the suburbs.”
–excerpt of an interpretive display at Crawford Auto Aviation Collection
[Pictured right: a 1904 Baker Electric]

car rauch 1916


Another electric auto maker in Cleveland was the Rauch & Lang electric. Why wouldn’t the German newspaper be touting a German automaker? Because the first Rauch & Lang vehicle would not come out until 1905.

[Pictured left: a 1916 Rauch & Lang.]


Just a few years beyond 1902, automobiles would quickly blossom from their horse-drawn buggy origins to sleek, luxurious rides. Below are more examples from the tremendous exhibit at the Crawford Auto Aviation Collection in Cleveland.

car white model D 1904 sm

The White Motor Company Model D from 1904

car baker electric 1913 sm

This Baker electric model is from 1913, a time when gasoline-powered vehicles were finally beginning to dominate the automobile market.

car studebaker garford 1907

A 1907 Studebaker-Garford, built in Elyria, Ohio, most popular with women drivers. (The Studebaker Company was located in South Bend, Indiana, but contracted out the production of automobiles in this era.)

car owen magnetic 1916

A 1916 Owen Magnetic. Baker attempted to combine the smooth electric ride and power of gasoline in this car. Just a year before, Baker Electric had merged companies with Rauch & Lang and the R.M. Owen company as well.

How about that Cyndi

The first time I attended a genealogy class taught by Sarah Little I heard about Cyndi’s list. On Sarah’s handout, my teacher noted the site is the most comprehensive reference on the web for genealogy, “the best of them all. A phenomenal encyclopedic site.”

Amazingly, Cyndi has now kept Cyndislist.com continuously updated for 18 years. It has a categorized index to over 327,000 online genealogy resources. I’ve used Cyndislist.com to find immigrant ship passenger lists, links to German genealogy sites, Palatine genealogy sites, and genealogy resources by state. I’ve found links to listserves on ships and on blacksmithing, to ship photos and more. Sarah’s right, the site is phenomenal. Basically, it’s a free place to go learn what’s out there, like a card catalog used to work as you entered a library.

This past weekend, I had the privilege of meeting Cyndi herself at the Washington State Genealogy Conference in Arlington. Cyndi Ingle, the person behind that marvelous List, is as helpful, personable, and knowledgeable as her web site.

Wash. St. Genealogy Conference attendees visit Cyndi's table during session breaksWant to meet Cyndi, too? Her speaking calendar, including upcoming visits to Arkansas, San Diego, and Port Angeles, is here.

And if you’re up for a cruise, she’ll be part of the 10th Annual Heritage Books Genealogy Conference and Cruise this November 29-December 6.

Say now, doesn’t that sound like fun?! Needless to say, I left the genealogy conference with a touch of Cyndi envy. And gratitude — Cyndi posted a link to this author blog, and to my The Last of the Blacksmiths book page in her “Browse New Links” for August 16. How cool is that! Thanks, Cyndi.

A new day in history

Once upon a time, before I really started researching 19th century history, I lumped the entire 19th century into the Victorian era, all about propriety and manners, dominated by “prudish, hypocritical, stuffy, [and] narrow-minded” cultural attitudes (Murfin and Ray 496).

While two-thirds of the 19th century did fall within Queen Victoria’s reign in England (1837-1901), I now know the Victorian America preoccupation involved mainly New England and the Deep South. Most American citizens weren’t about establishing high society. They were on the move, focused on settling lands to the West while ridding the continent of native peoples, on inventions and technological break-throughs that would bring the industrial age to stay.

But at the beginning of the 19th century, the wild experiment called a republican government had just begun. With the signing of the U.S. Constitution into law (the 13th colony, Rhode Island, did so in 1790) the United States of America had embarked on something optimistic, risky, and unprecedented  — constitutional rule and a representative government. No sure thing. Many doubted this new republic would succeed. People just couldn’t be trusted to rule themselves.

It seems to me we’ve come to overlook those times, that heady spirit of freedom to make a new day in history. Recently, I came across this sense of freshness and challenge in an ad in the 1837-1838 Directory of Cleveland and Ohio City that renewed my appreciation for those times.

Cleveland Liberalist advertisement in 1837-1838 city directory

Civil War POWs

In the current July/August “Echoes,” published by the Ohio Historical Society, I was delighted to find a piece about the Union Army POW camp Johnson’s Island (located in Sandusky Bay just to the south of Lake Erie).

I don’t remember how I happened on the existence of the Johnson’s Island camp in my research for The Last of the Blacksmiths, but I remember thinking how spotty the information seemed. Now, the “Echoes” magazine notes, there’s a new exhibit called “Privy to History” about the Johnson’s Island Civil War Prison at the Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio, an exhibit that will run through January of 2015. The exhibit is funded by the Sidney Frohman Foundation and the Friends & Descendants of Johnson’s Island Civil War Prison. For details, go here.

A terrific on-line resource is the Johnson’s Island Preservation Society. Hover over the drop-down tab for History & POWs, for the submenu “Pleasure Resort Era.” Excuse me, Pleasure Resort Era? Yup.

The first Johnson’s Island Pleasure Resort Company leased about twenty acres of land in 1894. The resort was in business from July of 1894 to September of 1897, when operations were discontinued. In 1904, a new group purchased the stock and lease rights of the resort and retained its name. The resort was then operated for four years until it, too, was sold to a different owner, the Cedar Point Pleasure Resort Company.

johnsons island postcard

Cedar Point Pleasure Resort Company?!?! When I saw this, I was astounded and horrified. I’d gone to Cedar Point Amusement Park many times as a kid. Had they really built it on top of a POW Camp?! The answer, thank goodness, is a resounding NO. Cedar Point is across the bay. The “Pleasure Resort Era” on Johnson’s Island was short-lived, closing down once and for all in 1908. The full write-up is found here.

Another on-line resource for Johnson’s Island is found at Ohio History Central.

Homestead Digitization Project

Breaking news for genealogists and family history researchers.

Files detailing Nebraska’s homesteading history have been digitized and are now available to the public. The milestone’s part of a larger effort by the Homestead Digitization Project to put all homesteading documents from around the U.S. online. For more on the subject, Robert Siegel speaks with historian Blake Bell from the Homestead National Monument in Beatrice, Neb.

Link to interview on NPR

Buffalo robes

I first included buffalo robes in the novel The Last of the Blacksmiths because it was something my grandmother used to mention when she described sleigh rides. I didn’t really know what they were like — after all, buffalo robes are not an everyday object now like they once were in the 1800’s. Then again, there’s always Wikipedia.

From the 1840s to the 1870s the great demand for buffalo robes in the commercial centres of Montreal, New York, St. Paul and St. Louis was a major factor that led to the near extinction of the species. The robes were used as blankets and padding in carriages and sleighs and were made into Buffalo coats.”
Wikipedia

Here are two examples found in the book American Indian Art: Form and Tradition (E.P. Dutton and Co., Inc., 1972).

This colorful robe, made in the late 1800s, is attributed to the Ojibwa tribe.

Ojibwa Buffalo Robe circa late 1800s

This horseback “battle scene” buffalo robe is dated 1797 and was collected by Lewis and Clark in 1805 in present day North Dakota. Apparently, it’s the oldest known robe still in existence.

Battle scene between rival tribes circa lat 1700s

Even on the bitterest of winter nights, my grandmother described buffalo robes as keeping her cozy and warm in the brisk open air sleigh.

Enough time has passed that the buffalo is no longer on the endangered species list, and buffalo robes and hides are making a comeback. If you have $800-$1200+ to spend, that is.

Guessing right

“You might want to look through Dad’s stuff, the boxes in the spare room,” my brother Craig said to me over the phone. I was visiting his house in Cincinnati in early May. He had left for work earlier that morning. “I’m not sure what’s in there.”

The rest of the afternoon found me sitting on the floor of my brother’s living room, pictures and documents spread around me, as I took photo after photo of family genealogy documents, histories, and old photographs.

The material I’d pulled out of storage had been sorted into 9 x 12 manila envelopes. The outsides were labelled with names — PATTERSON — HOPPENSACK — MCINTOSH — GRESSLE — but I soon discovered the contents did not match the labels. In my dad’s dotage (he passed away in 2009), I remembered how he used to mix everything up. I had a clear vision of him sitting in his assisted living room, through a drugged haze of Parkinson’s, anti-depressants, and other meds, attempting to compose his “autobiography.” These materials had no doubt been spilled across his coffee table to jog his memory, then stuffed back in confused disarray.

It amazed me that I had none of this stuff when I was writing my novel The Last of the Blacksmiths. I had letters, tin-types and other photos, a family tree, plenty of other paraphernalia, but this material I had not seen.

One document in particular took my breath away: an 1858 confirmation certificate for “Elisabeth Crolli,” Michael Harm’s future wife.

elizabeth crolly confirmation zum schifflein christi

 

I had guessed Elizabeth Crolly was religious. Here was impressive evidence — from a church I’d guessed her family had attended — Zum Schifflein Christi (The Little Boat of Christ) German Church in Cleveland, Ohio. Somehow, through DNA? or instinct?, I’d also guessed my great-great grandmother was very devoted to her faith. Now, I beheld the evidence of her confirmation, carefully pasted to a stiff backing and preserved, a message to descendants five generations later regarding what this German American held dear.

Cheers!

Cheers to these Cleveland West Siders, Herb, Harriet, Carol, Dorothy, and David, relatives and descendants of Henry Hoppensack (who appears near the end of my novel The Last of the Blacksmiths). After my talk at Fairview Park Library on April 24, we had a really great time getting re-acquainted at Stamper’s Tavern, all while sampling delicious Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold .
Herb, Harriet, Carol, Dorothy, David, Claire

Rauch & Lang electric cars

At my launch event for The Last of the Blacksmiths, during the question and answer period my friend Larry raised his hand.

“Was Rauch a real person in history?” he asked.

Yes! Charles Rauch was a real person, a contemporary of Michael Harm in Cleveland in the 19th century who built fine carriages, ice wagons and buggies. Of course, my book being historical fiction, I surmised his personality, likes and dislikes, but the real historic Charles Rauch, son of Jacob, did gravitate toward factory-style manufacture of carriage-making. The Rauch & Lang factory took up several blocks on Pearl Road on Cleveland’s west side. At the start of the 20th century, he stayed on the cutting edge of vehicle manufacture with the production of a state-of-the-art electric automobile. Like the fine carriages, the Rauch & Lang electric cars were popular with Cleveland’s wealthier, Millionaire’s Row set.

Rauch & Lang electric carAt a recent visit to the Western Reserve Historical Society’s Crawford Auto Aviation Collection, I was delighted to find this example, circa 1906, of a Rauch & Lang electric car.